GARETH DUNCAN says the Cheetahs will need an improved performance from flyhalf Sias Ebersohn when they tackle the Stormers in Cape Town.
The Cheetahs arrive at Newlands having only beaten the Stormers twice in seven derbies over the past six years. Both of those victories came in 2006 and 2007, which means the Stormers currently hold a five-match winning streak over the men from Bloem. It’s not a positive record, but the Cheetahs did manage a recent triumph over the Cape franchise in a pre-season friendly at Newlands in February.
The Stormers fielded a weakened, youthful side on the day, but a key factor that can be taken out of that match was the performance of flyhalf Johan Goosen, who spearheaded the team effectively on attack and defence, and slotted 14 points in a flawless goal-kicking display to secure a 22-14 win. And just like in that fixture, the Cheetahs’ chances this Saturday will depend on an influential showing from their flyhalf.
The bad news is that teenage sensation Goosen is out with a campaign-ending shoulder injury. The Cheetahs have a dependable replacement in Ebersohn, but the 23-year-old is not in his best form and is low on confidence. This was evident in the team’s defeats to the Chiefs and Highlanders, and the unconvincing 17-13 win against the Force over the past four weeks.
Ebersohn’s attacking strengths compliment the Cheetahs’ expansive approach, but his current flaws are his goal-kicking and defence.
Ebersohn currently has a conversion success rate of 55% from the kicking tee. If you take away the four from four return he achieved during the 39-33 loss to the Chiefs, his success rate drops to 42%. He also missed a late penalty from right in front of the posts in the 36-33 defeat to the Highlanders, which could’ve swung the game in the Cheetahs’ favour.
Head coach Naka Drotske and his management have previously stated that Ebersohn’s poor goal-kicking record has been the reason for his late promotion to the senior ranks. The player will need to work on this.
Ebersohn has also been weak on defence in recent matches. He missed seven tackles against the Chiefs (four tackles), Highlanders (one tackle) and Force (two tackles), exposing a clear chink in the Cheetahs’ guard. He’ll need to become more solid, especially against opposite number Peter Grant.
The Stormers are the best defensive unit in the competition, having only conceded 144 points and nine tries in their nine matches this year. The Cheetahs have been one of the more successful South African sides on attack, but their shaky defence has been their biggest downfall this season.
The Cheetahs improved in this department against the Force, and they’ll need to build on that if they want to beat the Stormers. They will also need to take all the points on offer (especially at goal) as scoring opportunities will be rare at Newlands. This places a lot of responsibility on Ebersohn.
The young flyhalf needs to step up.